Gender and domestic abuse victimisation among churchgoers in north west England: breaking the church’s gendered silence

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Rebecca Barnes University of Leicester, UK

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Kristin Aune Coventry University, UK

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Domestic abuse is often hidden in church contexts. Despite a body of North American research, it has rarely been researched in the UK. This article offers new empirical findings on the nature and extent of, and attitudes to, domestic abuse among churchgoers. The data are drawn from a cross-denominational survey of 438 churchgoers in rural north-west England. The majority of the survey respondents were female and aged over 60, providing important evidence of domestic abuse victimisation among this seldom-heard group. Using a broad measure of domestic abuse encompassing physical, emotional, sexual, financial and spiritual dimensions, the results revealed that one in four had experienced at least one abusive behaviour in their current intimate relationship. While headline figures for prevalence are similar for women and men, analysis revealed gender differences in four areas: number of abusive behaviours experienced, types of abuse, frequency of victimisation and impacts of abuse, with women experiencing the most frequent and high-impact abuse. Churchgoers’ comments on the church’s response to abuse reveals silence as a key theme, and the article attributes the church’s silence to gendered power relations in the wider church.

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Rebecca Barnes University of Leicester, UK

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Kristin Aune Coventry University, UK

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